Healthcare News & Insights

Fires in hospitals: Keys to avoid injuries & property loss

Hospitals have a lot on their plates, between providing top-quality care and keeping up with the always changing healthcare climate. But, just like other large facilities, they also need to stay on top of various aspects of basic facility management, such as fire prevention guidelines. 

gettyimages-530512204Fires can strike a healthcare facility at any time. Per statistics from the National Fire Incident Reporting System, cited in an article from insurance publication Claims Journal, close to 5,700 fires were reported at medical facilities from 2012 to 2014. And over 1,100 of these fires were in hospitals.

While deaths are usually minimal in hospital fires, they can cause significant injuries and property loss. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that close to $5 million in property loss occurs each year because of fires in hospitals.

During this time period, most reported hospital fires were confined fires in cooking pots (60%). Confined fires also occurred in trash incinerators/compactors (9.8%) and chimneys/fuel burners (2.9%).

Non-confined fires, typically larger structure fires, were 27% of hospital fires.

Cooking was the top cause of confined hospital fires (68%), followed by electrical malfunctions (6%) and heating issues (5%).  With non-confined fires, the most common causes were electrical malfunctions (22%), appliances (13%), intentional actions (12%) and other equipment (11%).

Most hospital fires (84%) stayed in their place of origin. Rarely did hospital fires grow to affect other areas – only 3% of fires extended beyond the room where they originated.

Fires are also more likely to take place in the daytime and early evening hours. Sixty percent of fires occurred in hospitals between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the highest chance of fires during the lunch hour, from noon to 1 p.m.

Preventing hospital fires

Even a small, contained fire has the potential to cause injury or expensive property damage. And larger fires can be even more devastating. With that in mind, there are several precautions hospitals need to be taking to prevent fires.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requirements dictate that hospitals must have written fire prevention plans that are available for staff to review. At minimum, your plan must include:

  • a list of all major fire hazards and the type of equipment necessary to control each hazard
  • a list of potential fire sources and their controls
  • a list of proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials
  • procedures to control accumulations of flammable waste materials
  • procedures to maintain any safeguards installed on equipment that produces heat to keep flammable materials from igniting
  • the names or job titles of the employees responsible for maintaining equipment designed to prevent or control fires, and
  • the names or job titles of the employees responsible for controlling fuel source hazards.

Hospitals must also have specific exit routes and evacuation plans available. And any existing alarm or fire extinguishing systems must meet federal standards.

It’s always a good idea to review your hospital’s fire prevention plans and make sure staff are taking all necessary precautions to keep fires from occurring and spreading, and that all required maintenance on electrical systems and equipment is taking place regularly. In addition, staff members should receive regular reminders about the evacuation protocols they must follow in case of fire.

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